Monday, November 17, 2008

Much Ado...


Click photo to read

UPDATE: 9:00 AM

So our anonymous friend seems to have targeted at least one other Town Meeting—Brookline, so I guess it wasn’t John Calipari. Now I’m thinking Elvis.
Springfield Republican scoops the Gazette (again)
Brookline Tab scoops the Gazette
The watchdog who did not do it

Original Post 10:00 PM (yeah, I left early)

So the buzz on the floor of Town Meeting this evening was not the usual microphone feedback, or the snide murmurs one sometimes hears when certain speakers stroll to the microphone: everybody was all a twitter tonight about a “mysterious” anonymous post card that arrived in the mail today with a Tennessee postmark (pretty good timing.)

Apparently two versions exist (I received the longer version) one stating Town Meeting attendance would be recorded and mailed to all of Amherst and the longer one where “vote positions” would get the same treatment (and obviously you have to be in attendance to vote).

The Moderator asked for a show of hands and a little over half the members present confirmed receiving one version or the other. Amherst has 247 Town Meeting members so even at 100% saturation the weirdo would spend $67.

But sending the voting or attendance results to all of Amherst with about 7,000 mailboxes (and another 1,500 PO Boxes) would be over $2,000. Hell, I’ll publish it all here for half that.

From: "Town Meeting Coordinating Committee"
Subject: Peculiar Postcard
Date: November 17, 2008 4:31:01 PM EST

A Message from the Moderator: Many, if not all, Town Meeting Members have received a peculiar postcard postmarked Nashville Tennessee. The writer voices an intention to attend Town Meeting this week, record everyone’s votes, and “mail your vote positions to all citizens in town of Amherst.” Nothing illegal or violent is threatened in this message and I don’t believe there is any reason for members to be alarmed. But I have informed the Amherst Police and they are looking into the matter. I look forward to seeing all of you tonight.

Harrison L. Gregg

Town Moderator, Amherst

15 comments:

Ed Cutting said...

I find it chilling that the Amherst Police are investigating. It wouldn't take much for that to become a violation of civil rights.

First, postmarks no longer mean anything. Everything that UMass mails has a Hartford postmark because they have hired a mail service company that consolidates various companies mail (for better postal rates) and sends it all out of Hartford.

Second, most people lack both the equipment and knowledge of how to do a mass mailing. It isn't that complicated but then neither is writing websites in raw HTML code, it *is* time consuming and there is a steep learning curve.

I also fix my own car - many people hire that out too.

Third, Tennesee is a low-wage area, while this was a postcard (which I like because of reduced labor), stuffing envelopes is labor intensive and that would be cheaper in a cheaper labor state.

We live in the era of the fax machine (and the emailed .pdf file). I could send a mailing out of Amherst or Alabama with equal ease, distance no longer matters and this mailing could have been combined with others in this area or town making it *cheaper* to send from Tennessee.

Now as to the civil rights aspect: SCOTUS has ruled that people have a right to have anonymous political speech. So if the police powers of the APD are used to identify the mailer, he/she/it would then have a civil rights claim against the town under the Federal civil rights acts.

It would be like if the APD ran the license plates of the cars in a driveway at a political meeting and then issued a press release of whose vehicles had been there. Using police databases not available to the general public.

So if the Amherst Police investigate - i.e. call up the mailing company and ask who their customer is, that simple phone call will have opened Pandora's Box...

LarryK4 said...

Well the cops I talked to last night did not seem to take it very seriously.

I'm sure it was one of those "okay a heavy-hitter wants reassurances so we will tell him to take two aspirin and call back in the morning" kind of thing.

I had more than a few folks ask if I had been to Tennessee lately (I'm pretty sure they were joking).

Probably because I have done more mass mailings to Town Meeting over the past twenty years than anyone in history (mostly about Cherry Hill of course).

But I always sign my stuff or use the handle (Nostradamus) and put in way more than enough facts, figures and sarcasm so that everybody knows who Nostradamus is.

I'm never impressed on websites where people act tough and do not sign their name ;but--for sure--occasionally good stuff is leaked anonymously.

Sometimes the ends justifies the means.

Greg Saulmon said...

It's widespread, whatever this person is up to. In addition to Brookline, same thing happened in Dartmouth:

http://www.southcoasttoday.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081026/OPINION/810260311/1003/TOWN0201

LarryK4 said...

Hmmm...to borrow from Arlo, this making three, it's a God Damned movement!

So far only Representative Town Meetings (a dying breed within a dying breed) have been targeted.

Dartmouth is almost identical in total population to the People's Republic of Amherst (and they also have a University of Massachusetts) but Brookline is twice our size (so if the nitwit actually did send results to all residents it would be REALLY expensive)

Robert said...

Falmouth Town Meeting also received these postcards.

Greg Saulmon said...

I e-mailed the Dartmouth town clerk to ask whether "Concerned Citizen" actually followed through, since their meeting was Oct. 26.

It's a weird case, any way you look at it.

LarryK4 said...

Falmouth, eh--yet another Representative Town Meeting (well at least they think they are) the same size of Amherst.

I think we have a pattern here.

LarryK4 said...

Weird indeed.

Maybe a whacked marketing campaign from a radio station or website?

Or just somebody who does not like Representative Town Meeting (wasn't me, honest)

Greg Saulmon said...

Falmouth link:

http://capecodnow.net/artman/publish/falmouth/Mystery-Of-The-Nashville-Postcards.shtml

Anonymous said...

Definitely a bit odd you have to admit.

LarryK4 said...

For sure.

But then, so is the institution of Representative Town Meeting.

Keith Ulrich said...

I don't get it -- why the hubbub? Why have so many people interpreted these postcards as intimidating?

Mr. Anonymous said he would disseminate information that is already publicly available. Wouldn't he actually be doing everyone a service? In an ideal republic, every citizen would be 100% informed about everything his or her representative is doing (or not doing) in an official capacity.

Is the entire federal bureaucracy up in arms because the incoming Obama administration has "threatened" to make the workings of the government more transparent?

Keith Ulrich

LarryK4 said...

Because Keith, this is the People’s Republic of Amherst where our exalted rulers know best and the surfs and peons are better off not knowing how the sausage is made.

When the DA cited the Select Board for violation of the Open Meeting Law His Lordship Gerry Weiss uses his Bully Pulpit Chair to whine about me having a “chilling effect” on his Select Board.

When I use the term “Czar” for former SB Chair Ann Awad I’m banned from the (what most people think is the official) Town Meeting listserve. And no, my posting privileges were not reinstated for the most recent Town Meeting.

And when I post official Public Documents and a (long distance) photo proving his compatriot Anne Awad is a citizen of South Hadley he tries to get his Select Board to officially censor me.

So yeah, I think the entire postcard episode is kind of funny.

I’m the biggest booster in Amherst for Open Government and accountability. But this nitwit who sent the postcards gives all us watchdog advocates a bad name.

Keith Ulrich said...

I'd be more amused and less puzzled by everyone's reactions if it weren't for the fact that the Moderator reported the mailings to the police! How, by any stretch, could anyone -- least of all Harrison, who seems more level-headed and reasonable than most -- possibly construe these postcards as some kind of violation of the law?

Keith Ulrich

P.S. I guess that's a rhetorical question, because I already know the answer: This is the People's Republic of Amherst, and we are all citizens thereof, including Harrison Gregg.

LarryK4 said...

Well, he's a control freak for one--and he controls the microphone.

And as you well know he's been accused of sexism in favoring men over women (that one I don't buy).

But he knows all the players pretty well and he knows even better their political leanings (notice "acting moderator" Jim Pistrang did not even attempt to call on folks by their names.)

And Mr. Moderator also knows who is going to "call the question," potentially ending debate (a powerful bit of information).

Although with Mr. Puffer no longer in Town Meeting, he will have to look elsewhere for that valuable tool.